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Gartner: Public sector must target disjointed IT strategy

The pandemic showed how quickly public sector IT can deliver technology to support essential services – now it is time to fix scalability

The pandemic resulted in bold, technology-led initiatives across the public sector, but these now need revisiting, says analyst firm Gartner.

Arthur Mickoleit, director analyst at Gartner, said: “Government and public sector CIOs now need to sustain the momentum of digital acceleration after the initial chaos of the pandemic.” 

Legacy modernisation is among the top IT trends identified by Gartner across the public sector. “We found that government bodies were able to show agility during the pandemic,” said Mickoleit. For instance, in the UK, HM Revenue & Customs developed and deployed furlough support at significant speed using partners.

Such agility requires public sector IT departments to build dual systems with legacy IT and very modern agile services for citizens, said Mickoleit. “They created fixes in between the legacy and new systems,” he said. “The question now is how to make these fixes sustainable over time. You want to modernise in a coherent direction and need to ensure that the fixes are not just quick fixes.”

Data from Gartner shows that 72% of public sector IT leaders are accelerating digitisation initiatives, but 55% of government IT programmes fail to scale.

According to Mickoleit, the challenge facing public sector IT chiefs is that IT investment is often disjointed, which encourages IT departments to take a siloed approach to dealing with a problem. “You won’t stay resilient if you make disjointed technology decisions,” he said. “You disregard problems in other areas.”

Mickoleit recommended that public sector IT chiefs “zoom out” to enable them to look at how technology investments can be aligned with policy objectives. As an example of joining up IT with policy, he said it is impossible to provide high-quality public sector services without the concept of digital identity, which needs to link across different tech infrastructure and public sector bodies.

Another aspect of the pandemic was that having “good enough” processes is not sufficient, said Mickoleit. “Just working isn’t enough. There were huge scaling issues, families and businesses in need.”

He warned that such a situation is not sustainable when there is a disruption. “There is a need for efficiencies in government,” he added.

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This means IT leaders need to focus on reducing the number of process steps to support case work and deliver a service to a citizen, said Mickoleit. “There is an ideal opportunity to combine AI and automation for better support,” he pointed out.

One example is a pilot project run by the French government to help struggling businesses, he said. “Instead of relying on businesses reaching out to government reactively, the pilot turned to a proactive business model, pulling data from different platforms and using a predictive model to reach out to company directors proactively.”

Mickoleit said this represented a new approach to thinking about the delivery of government services.

In the longer term, Mickoleit said the public sector needs to think about how to become a composable government enterprise. “Think about a more modular government,” he said, “with more orchestration and not having to reinvent the wheel.”

An early example of this from Germany is a national platform, where individual government departments can develop services that can be delivered to other government bodies. For Mickoleit, the work being done in Germany goes beyond the concept of an application programming interface (API) store, which is available across government departments.

Instead, there is the idea of a capability store, which catalogues a business requirement that can be delivered as a service by another government body.

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